Ford to mail Flat Rock families affected by gas leak $500 checks

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Flat Rock — Ford Motor Co. will send $500 to every household affected by a gasoline leak from the automaker's plant into the city's sewer system, representatives said.

With 1,200 families evacuated, that would mean Ford would pay out at least $600,000 in addition to others affected by the gas leak.

The smell from the Ford assembly plant first was detected on Aug. 30 and the leak appears to have started "no earlier than" Aug. 26, according to Bob Holycross, Ford's vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering, who said Tuesday afternoon at a press conference that the company believes the 1,400 gallons of gasoline seeped out slowly over in the days following.

"It was not a matter of ... a complete separation of a pipe or something like that," said Holycross at the conference, which was held inside the mostly vacant plant in Flat Rock. Reporters were told that the plant itself had been deemed safe and clear of toxic chemicals. 

State and federal agencies sent a daily brief on Tuesday evening to update residents on the investigation and testing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had performed indoor air sampling at four homes and seven sewer locations using the Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA) mobile laboratory.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said dye testing in Ford’s sewer conducted by Ford and overseen by state and federal contractors had pinpointed a compromised manhole structure on Ford’s property where it is believed gasoline from a leak was able to enter the city’s sewer system. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said it had notified the Wayne County Health Department that gasoline vapors at River Heights Academy were not expected to harm people’s health because contaminant levels in the indoor air were below levels of concern.

The announcements of additional reimbursement and assumed start date of the leak followed Ford's extension Monday of the assembly plant's closure through Sept. 20 and Mayor Mark Hammond's announcement on the same day that residents may be out of their homes for weeks still as testing of the city's sewer system as well as the indoor air quality continues. 

The $500 will be mailed in the form of certified check, said T.R. Reid, Ford's director of corporate and public policy communications. Some checks may arrive before residents of the families evacuated are cleared to return to their homes. 

"As they return home, they'll have access to it," said Reid. "So I can't tell you that it'll be there Friday, Monday, Wednesday, but the process has begun. And they'll be sent directly to them in a secure way."

Reid said on Sept. 6 that the company had initially created a $1 million fund to cover the residents' evacuation expenses, but he and Holycross were not able to comment Tuesday about how much this incident was projected to cost Ford. 

The Tuesday conference was called at the plant after two events to update the residents were postponed due to threat of severe weather in the region. The outdoor open house and town hall meeting were slated to include Hammond, EGLE, the EPA and Ford. 

The city on Sunday posted a five-part re-occupancy plan to its social media channels. That process involves screening the sanitary sewer system, air sampling, data monitoring, data analysis and clearance decisions for each home, and additional screening and sampling for homes that are not yet cleared to be reoccupied.

"We're weeks out yet (from residents returning home)," Hammond told The Detroit News on Monday. "There are several steps involved and each of those steps takes days. I know it's not convenient, but we're asking for patience right now."